We need to talk about death: I was not prepared for how lonely grief would be

When my father died I lost the ability to live normally
Vanessa Billy
Six months ago, on 9 October 2018, it was a beautiful and unusually warm day in my native city of Paris. There, in the leafy surroundings of a palliative care centre, my father took his last breath.
I was there with my husband. Our three year old, playing in the room next door, was blissfully unaware of what was happening. We had been in France for five weeks and had spent a lot of time with my father. I remember thinking “this is hard, but I am strong, I’ve got this”.
I helped organise his funeral, stayed with my mum a few weeks after he passed away and then flew home to Sydney.
The first days back in Australia were painful. However, I can’t say that they were the most difficult to get through. I was functioning at a basic level, but functioning nevertheless. People offered condolences and gave me space. My work colleagues were incredibly supportive, providing back-up, patience and flexibility. It was really all I could ask for.
I knew grief was going to be painful. What I didn’t know was how lonely it would make me feel. After a couple of weeks though, life resumed. There were lunchboxes to pack, important deadlines to meet, meetings to attend and parties to go to. Everything happened as if all of a sudden, mourning time was up. Around me, everything was getting back to “normal”, except I wasn’t.
I still had uncontrollable fits of crying or sadness, only met by uncomfortable silence and awkward looks around me. I couldn’t concentrate, could not keep up with the pace of daily life. I was battling night terrors and panic attacks, yet every day I was expected to make rational decisions and plans. Many times, I felt like watching the train I was supposed to be on depart while I stayed stuck on the platform.
I did try to behave according to what I thought was expected of me, back to my “normal” self. I tried socialising but was too hurt to handle simple casual conversations. Increasingly, I started noticing people’s uneasiness if I mentioned how I felt or the memories of my father. I now know that their embarrassment came from not knowing how to react. But at the time it made me feel like I was responsible for not being able to snap back to my old self, for not being able to simply smile at the good memories.
On top of feeling heartbroken, I felt guilty and inadequate.
I became irritable – no, not irritable; I turned into a dragon. Commuting would trigger an explosion of angry tears every morning. Picking up my daughter’s clothes for the day turned into a stressful ordeal. Everything hurt. What people said, what they didn’t say. Three notes of music, a particular song, an administrative issue, practically anything would make me scared or angry or frustrated.
Sometimes even the rays of sunshine on a beautiful day would tear me apart. How could the day be so beautiful when I was in pieces inside? I had to do something, I didn’t want my daughter to come home to an angry mother every day. My father would really not have tolerated that.
After a couple of months, I started to see a grief counsellor. This decision gave me my life back. The counsellor simply provided me with the space I needed to grieve. We spoke about my dad, about his last days, I cried a lot. Simply talking about it with someone who told me all this was normal gave me immense relief. Within a few weeks, the wall I had built around my emotions collapsed, and the anger vanished. I still ache, I’m still sad, but I know I’m going to be OK. After a bad day a better one will come.
I knew grief was going to be painful. What I didn’t know was how lonely it would make me feel.
Our society does not cope with the idea of death. We fear it, and because we fear it, we ignore it. We refuse to consider death and illness as a part of life. We irrationally believe that it won’t happen to us or our loved ones. This makes us totally ill-equipped to deal with it when it does happen and to relate to people who have experienced it.
No one can entirely relate to the sadness and the ache caused by the loss of a loved one. They are lonely experiences. But the pain should not be compounded by society’s inability to deal with someone’s mourning. Most of us will acknowledge that mourning is a process which takes time. But few are actually ready to accept the responsibility that comes with it: people will not simply “get over it” with time, the experience of loss will change them deeply and forever.
As a society we have a responsibility to acknowledge the pain and help people adjust into society with their grief. We need to accept that it won’t always be that hard, yet it will never be the same.
Dark, awkward, depressing, sad, painful and uncomfortable; grief is all this. It is not something we want to think about. It is not something we wish on anyone. But it is something that will happen to all of us. We need to be here for each other when it does. And for this, we need to be prepared to deal with the bad and the ugly. We need to talk about death.

Our wonderful Leicester team have recently moved offices and are in need of some items to brighten up the therapeutic spaces.

Do you have any items you no longer need and wish to donate?

We want our spaces to be welcoming, comfortable and supportive and we are reaching out to anyone who may be able to offer us a helping hand with a few items, such as;




Blankets and throws




Artificial flowers

Comfy chairs


Any items to brighten up our spaces would be greatly appreciated. Please do get in touch if you are able to support us with any of these. Thank you in advanced for your continued support.

Phone: 0115 880 0280

Email: info@harmless.org.uk


An enormous congratulations to Sophia for your phenomenal efforts in training, and then running and completing the London Marathon!!!  We are SO PROUD! It has been an honour to watch your training progress and read your updates. Thank you so much for choosing to run in aid of our service, your hard work and determination is admirable.

Take a read of Sophia’s Marathon story below <3

It’s been 48 hours since I crossed the finish line on the iconic Mall of the London Marathon and I can just about walk normally again!
The support I have received through this page since starting my training has been so valuable and I wanted to share the day with you all. So, here is my marathon experience!
The morning of the marathon I was petrified and felt quite alone in my hotel room on the outskirts of London an hour from Greenwich. I went for breakfast and was instantly greeted by a fellow runner who gave me a huge hug and showed me her LCFC tattoo! We traveled together on the tube with her brother to Greenwich by which time I was amongst a sea of support and runners feeling the exact same. I was then in my London Marathon family!

At the station I walked for miles to the start but had to stop enroute to my training partner Mick for one final “you’ve got this!” reminder. There have been a lot of these since January and the one at the start I actually did believe. I was going to finish this…….

After this I walked to the start with a lad called Jonathon who had slept on his mates sofa and had a heavy night before. We took each other’s Green Start photos and had a good luck hug before I went to my VIP marquee (I’m kind of a big deal ?)
Once in my marquee I sat on a bean bag drinking tea with a bank manager called Devo from Glasgow. He was a Celtic fan so we chatted through the next hour chatting football and Marathon training. I was totally calm!
Then it was start time……..

At the start I had on a huge hoody and the girl next to me was shivering so we cuddled up tight and had a chat. She’d lost her dad on New Years Eve to Parkinson’s and was running for Parkinsons UK. We both had a little cry and a hug then we crossed the start line holding hands before she ran off on her race.
I then ran slow and steady at a happy pace but those first 2 miles were seriously tough. The prospect of what lay ahead was huge and I could feel the panic setting in.
At that point I started running with Jack who asked if I’d pace him ? I said only if he was interesting! He chatted for the next 6 miles about Game of Thrones then we got onto our jobs. Jack so me he ran a Quidditch premier league which I found hilarious ? he told me there’s no world record for the marathon on a broom stick so next year we are doing it together, him as Harry Potter and me following as Belatrix Astrange ?
At mile 12 my phone was disabled meaning no Tower Bridge photos so Jack took a photo of me and we carried on till mile 15. One of my highlights has got to be singing Queen Don’t Stop me Now with Jack as we ran by a pub ? we had a ball. At mile 15 Jack told me to go on while he had a walk so we wished each other well and split.
Although I knew where my support team were going to be roughly I also knew from experience that supporting someone on the marathon was often unpredictable and I couldn’t remember where exactly they’d said. This meant I was constantly scanning for their flags and banners on the route which also kept me going. I wanted to make sure I always looked strong and to do this I knew I had to enjoy myself.
At mile 17 I felt sick and knew I couldn’t manage another energy gel so I had a cereal bar and walked for a bit. I realised I could walk pretty fast so carried on like this for a while chatting to people, dancing to the live music and thanking the marshals. It was like a party ?
At mile 24 someone grabbed me from the side; it was Jemma who I crossed the start line with! She was in a really bad way and wanted to drop out. I refused to let her and we walked together. At mile 26 we stopped to put on some lippy and check our faces for snot ?
Those last 2 miles were just incredible, we cried, we laughed and we dragged each other along. We ran down the mall hand in hand, screaming our heads off!
Crossing the finish line was indescribable.
Once over the line Jemma FaceTimed her friend to introduce her “guardian angel” and that friend was Danny Simpson ? she wanted to show him my Leicester badges on my top ? I was a tad gobsmacked and managed to say “you’re Danny Simpson! You won the premier league, I love you!” ?‍♀️ we then collected our medals and Jemma choreographed my medal model pose then took my photo ? it turns out she’s one of the TOWIE bunch and “knows all the angles” love her ??
We walked for about 15 miles (it felt like it!) to collect our bags eating the finest delicacy known to man; the pink lady apple ??? that apple was life!!!!!!
Once I had my bag, hugged Jemma and found the kids they set upon me like locusts! They’d been so full on tracking me they’d not eaten much so my goody bag was quickly eaten by the 3 of them!
I can honestly say I loved every bit of it, it was the best experience. Having spectated and ran it I can honestly say running it is far more enjoyable ?
I met so many fantastic people, i ran the race my way and my way was to do it singing, dancing and having fun! It was just a joy!
What’s more though is the difference the money raised by everyone who’s supported me has made to The Tomorrow Project. Some big charities had many runners but there was only me with their name on my top. I loved sharing who they are with people on the course and promoting their vital work. The total now stands at £5,250!!!!!!!! This is amazing and blows me away!!!! I can’t thank everyone enough for their support.
So……what’s next?! Well……….I hear New York Marathon is pretty amazing too ? keep dreaming guys, there’s no limit. Love you all xxxxxxxxxxx

Ps; apologies this is so long, but it was a bloody long run!!!!!


The Train Analogy That Will Completely Change How You See Your Crying Child

My 4-year-old was climbing into bed, his face turned away from me and toward the wall, when he asked the question.
“Where’s Glenn?”
His tone made the question sound like an afterthought, but I know better. Glenn is the opposite of an afterthought; he’s the tiger lovey blanket my son has been carting around with him since he was old enough to maintain a tight grasp.
The Train Analogy That Will Completely Change the Way You See Your Crying Child
My husband offered to head back downstairs to search, and I absently commented that I actually hadn’t seen Glenn around that evening, which was unusual.
At that, my son slowly turned around to face me but without making eye contact, his mind racing. His eyes were fixed on some background point as his mouth twisted and turned with each darting thought. They met mine only as he realized it, his shoulders straightening and his back growing taller as the panic scaled him.
Finally, the shout: “I left Glenn in the back of Gigi’s car!!!”
Gigi, of course, was one state away by this point, which means we were facing my son’s first night since he was an infant—the first night ever in his little memory—without Glenn curled up in the crook of his arm.
Oh, sure, we’d lost Glenn before, but he’d always been found before bedtime, even if sometimes it required what felt like hours of searching. And then there was the time my son held him out the car window and accidentally let go, so Glenn spent a bit of time playing chicken on the yellow lines of a busy street.
But still, there had never been a bedtime without Glenn.
The initial shock was, of course, followed by electric currents of anger that coursed through my son’s little body. He punched the air and gritted his teeth and screamed, “I WILL NOT SLEEP WITHOUT GLENN! I WILL NOT GO TO BED UNTIL HE’S HERE! I WILL NOT GO TO BED EVER AGAIN!” More punching, more gritting, a few angry flops onto the floor.
At this point my husband had returned from his futile search, and was looking at me for direction. How are we handling this one, mama?
I don’t know if the look I shot back reflected confidence, wisdom, and clarity, but believe it or not, that’s what I felt.
Because right when I needed it most, I remembered the train analogy.
The Life-Changing Train Analogy
The analogy was nothing new, something I’d learned in my own therapy years before I had kids and something we’ve all heard in the form of an overused cliche. Truthfully, I’d always struggled to apply it to my own rush of emotions, but here, with my poor child flopping around on the floor like a fish out of water, it seemed like the only reasonable response.
The Train Analogy That Will Change the Way You See Your Crying Child
The analogy goes like this:
Difficult feelings are tunnels, and we are trains traveling through them.
We have to move all the way through the darkness to get to the—you knew this was coming!—calm, peaceful light at the end of the tunnel.
It sounds simple, but it’s way easier said than done.
Where Well-Meaning Parents Go Wrong
The problem is that we well-meaning parents and caregivers often attempt to intercept our children on their journey through an emotional tunnel.
For example, watching my son wrestle with his anger and sadness and fear at not having his lovey, I could easily have said:
It’s only one night. We’ll get him back tomorrow.
We have so many other stuffed animals, just sleep with one of them tonight.
You’ll be fine, I promise.
Those would all have been true statements, not doubt, but they would not have been helpful ones.
So often when our kids are struggling with a difficult feeling—sadness, anger, fear, embarrassment, loneliness, guilt—we try to logic them out of it. We explain why they’re overreacting, or how WE know it will turn out just fine in the end.
We’re trying to help our children, of course, but if we peel back the layers a bit, I think we’ll find that what we’re really doing is trying to make OURSELVES feel better. Because our children’s pain hurts US so deeply, makes US so acutely uncomfortable.
We’re the ones who want their crying to stop as quickly as possible—not them.
Back to the analogy: If emotions are tunnels and we are trains going through them, then we NEED to keep moving all the way through to the other side.
What we adults often do when facing our own emotional struggles is attempt to get out of the tunnel early—banging on the sides, ignoring the cavernous echo, and wondering with confusion why we can’t see daylight yet.
Sometimes we squat in the darkness, close our eyes, and just pretend we’re not in a tunnel at all. Everything is just fine, thank you very much.
Sometimes we do a whole host of other things—eat ice cream, drink wine, shop online, run marathons, binge watch Netflix, play games on our phones or scroll mindlessly through Facebook—to distract ourselves from the fact that we’re in a tunnel in the first place.
But none of those things gets us out of the tunnel, does it?
Then, when we FINALLY let ourselves scream and wail and bang our fists and crumble onto the floor and have a good cry, we suddenly feel so. much. better.
Same goes for our kids. We can’t teach them there’s some secret side exit when there’s really not. There is no way out except through, and it’s our job to guide them there.
That’s why I didn’t say a word to my son. Instead, I just sat next to him as the ripples of anger melted into shaking and sobbing. When I thought it was OK to do so, I started rubbing his back—still without speaking. He kept crying and crying and crying.
As those tears flowed, I realized I had just done what Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate call “dancing our children to their tears.” In their book Hold On to Your Kids they write:
“…a parent must dance the child to his tears, to letting go, and to the sense of rest that comes in the wake of letting go…[a parent must] come alongside the child’s experience of frustration and provide comfort. The agenda should not be to teach a lesson but to move frustration to sadness…Much more important than our words is the child’s sense that we are with her, not against her.”
With that in mind, I was actually delighted that my son was shaking with sobs because I knew that meant he was traveling through this emotional tunnel rather than getting stuck in it.
He cried and he cried and he cried.
Until he wasn’t crying anymore.
Until, from his vantage point splayed out on the floor, he caught a glimpse of a nearby book about world-recording-holding dogs, pulled it over, and started paging through it. As if nothing had happened at all.
I peeked at the clock. It had been eight minutes.
Building Resilience
I decided speaking would be OK now, so I asked my son if he wanted to make a plan. I told him I knew that bedtime tonight would be extra tough, but maybe we could think of some ideas together to help him through it.
(Had I suggested such a thing two minutes prior, he would have EXPLODED. But because I waited until his train was through this tunnel, it was fine.)
Without any additional prompting from me, my 4-year-old chose two different stuffed animals to sleep with that night, then asked if we could read two extra books before bed to help make the evening more special.
Later, as I kissed him goodnight and he turned onto his side to fall asleep, he said peacefully, “I’m going to be OK tonight.”
Yes, dear son, you are.
Because this is where resilience is built.
Had I driven an hour each way to retrieve Glenn, we wouldn’t have built resilience.
Had I told him over and over again it was no big deal, it’s just one night without one stuffed animal, we wouldn’t have built resilience either. The message there would have been that his pain was invalid and that his struggles weren’t worth being taken seriously.
But simply sitting by his side as bumped his way through the tunnel? Allowing him to feel the rush and the panic, and then come up for air all on his own? THAT is building resilience.
Remember Your Job
So the next time your child is deeply frustrated, angry, or upset, remember what the job of a parent really is.
The job of a parent is to:
Provide comfort through the frustration.
Draw out our child’s cleansing tears.
Show empathy to our child’s struggle.
Allow the life lesson to be learned naturally—not through preaching.
Support our child’s journey through the emotional tunnel.
The job of a parent is NOT to get our child to stop crying as quickly as possible. Tears are a sign of parental success, not failure.
So rub your child’s back. Sit with them in silence. Stay alongside them as they chug chug chug through their tunnels of feelings. And be with them when they finally reach the calm, peaceful light at the end.